As Schmigadoon! airs its finale today, we’ve saved the best for last. The legendary Kristin Chenoweth plays Mildred Layton in the Apple TV+ series and there hasn’t been a more fabulous villain on TV in a long time. We chatted with the Tony Award winner about finding Mildred and being part of a series that not only celebrates musical theater, but gave her plenty of in-jokes and references to enjoy.
Nerdophiles: You’re pleasantly antagonistic as Mildred in Schmigadoon! But how do you play a character who has to be this larger-than-life villain, without taking us out of the story?
Kristin Chenoweth: A great question, one that I always ask of my own self when I’m doing something musical on TV. In musical theater, as you know, we sing it because we can’t speak it anymore. If we do it poorly, it screams terrible, terrible, terrible. But if we do it well, nobody notices. My constant challenge, every time I do anything musical on television, is you’re not playing to the back of the house, but you are playing a larger than life character. It’s a very interesting, very tough and critical line to walk.
This is a little secret—There’s two main camera operators on Schmigadoon! Sometimes there’s four, depending on the day. I went to camera A every day and I said, “What do you think of Mildred?” I wanted to know what he thought behind that lens. And by the way, [Barry] Sonnenfeld was the perfect director for this show. He will say, “I hate musicals.” I will say, “Stop saying that, please, please!” But the reason it’s such a match is because he’s not going to milk it too much. He knows the line and he’s been my teacher and mentor for many years, and I rely on him and camera A to say, here’s the line. As long as I just walk that fine line, I feel good.
When my own brother doesn’t like musicals and calls me and says, “Schmigadoon! is funny,” I think we did something right.
NP: The beauty of Schmigadoon! for theater fans is all the callbacks to Golden Age musicals and all of the in-jokes. For you, as a veteran performer who knows all these shows and gets all the jokes, what was it like to film?
KC: I loved those callbacks. When I saw Schmigadoon, the title, I thought, “Be careful. Don’t be making fun of my love, my musical theater, don’t be doing that.” Cinco [Paul], what he did so brilliantly is he made fun of everything with love. We were able to do it with love and it made it work. If it had not been clever, it would have been just bad. It’s the little things in the show.
For example, when Aaron Tveit’s character is introduced, which is [based on] Billy Bigelow from Carousel, it’s the shot that Sonnenfeld does where he comes in and goes, “Hello, little lady.”That’s Billy Bigelow, with his too-high-waist pants. It’s just dead on perfect. When the little boy says “It’s Mrs. Layton” and he’s randomly playing with a hula hoop, I know the genius of Music Man.
It’s one big love letter to Broadway. At a time when Broadway is closed, we need it. At least, I can speak for the cast and the crew; we all needed it. The people seem to be responding; [they] clearly need it. We need it during this time. We need to smile. We need laughter. We need it like water in a desert.
Schmigadoon! is now streaming exclusively on Apple TV+. The complete first season is now available to stream.